Friday, March 11, 2011

A Thought on the Parsha

The following is adapted from my recent daf website post on this topic, posted at the completion of Mesekhet Zevachim.  You can also find there a source sheet on this topic, "The Purpose of Sacrifices," with the original sources which are quoted below.  You will also find there a post on the related topic of  "The Meaning of the Mikdash," together with a  source sheet of primary sources.

The building of the Mishkan which took up the second half of the Book of Shemot, focused on creating a Sanctuary as a place for God's Presence to dwell, for God Godself to dwell among the Children of Israel.  In contrast, the book of Vayikra focuses on what is done in that Sanctuary - which is, first and foremost, the bringing of sacrifices.   What is the connection between sacrifices and the Temple?  The Torah seems to be telling us that sacrifices are the primary means to serve and connect to God, and that this connecting is best done in the Temple, were God's Presence dwell. 

But how are we to understand how animal (and grain) sacrifices serve as a means to connect to God, let alone as the primary means?  As modern people, it seems to us a very bizarre way to worship an infinite God.  What does God need with our sacrifices?  Isn't such a messy and bloody act, one that takes an animal's life no less, the furthest thing possible from a religious elevated act of worship?  At the same time, we must acknowledge that it was the primary form of worship in the ancient world.  Did it answer a universal human need, something relevant even for us today, or was it part of a primitive, less intellectually and spiritually developed society.

Given that the Torah commands obligatory communal and individual sacrifices (as well as allowing for non-obligatory, free will sacrifices), it stands to reason that a traditional Jewish approach would seek to find intrinsic value in these animal sacrifices.  Rambam (Maimonides), however, in the Guide to the Perplexed (section III, chapters 31 and 46), coming from a strong rationalist perspective, says otherwise.  Rambam states that worshipping God through animal sacrifices is not ideal, but the people at the time of the Giving of the Torah could not conceive of any other form of worship.  If they would have been forced to choose between worshipping God with prayer or worshipping pagan gods with sacrifices, they would have chosen the latter.  Thus, God conceded to them their need to use sacrifices, but demanded that they be brought to God and brought in a way which did not lead to idolatry.

[This approach, which resonates with most modern people, still raises some questions.  First, how could Rambam, as a traditional Jew who believed in the eternal bindingness of the mitzvot, suggest that sacrifices had outlived their purpose?  If he did not believe that they would continue to be binding in the future, why did he write all the laws of sacrifices in his Yad Hachazaka?   The simplest resolution to this is to accept that Rambam did not think that his explanations for the mitzvot were absolutely or necessarily correct, or that they were the only explanations.  Rather, they were the best rational explanation that could be given, but others may – or probably did – exist.  This is the general stance that is taken by all those who give ta’aemi mitzvot, reasons for mitzvot – to assume that there reasons are not complete.  To think that any explanation was the final word would both be a tremendous act of hubris, and would also allow for the argument that if the reason was no longer applicable then the mitzvah should no longer be binding.  Thus, Rambam could both suggest the best reason as he understands it, and at the same time believe that all mitzvot will remain binding, even if he cannot understand why.  It is also worth noting that Rav Kook has been quoted as saying that in the future there will no longer be animal sacrifices – only grain sacrifices.

A second challenge to Rambam’s position is how could God command something that was a concession to human weakness or to the human situatedness at the time the Torah was given?  Doesn’t this take away from the concept of the perfection of the Torah?  Rambam himself answers this, and says that God does not change the nature of people, and a perfect Torah is one that is perfectly suited for the reality of where people are at.  Sometimes, says Rambam, we have to look where the mitzvot are pointing us, and not see them as describing an ideal final state.  This is a very provocative approach in understanding the mitzvot of the Torah and their underlying values.   It gives us new ways to think about issues such as slavery in the Torah.  Do mitzvot about slavery mean that the Torah approves of the institution of slavery, or should they be understood as a step in humanizing this institution and  weaning people away from it?  Similar questions can be raised regarding polygamy, and other such mitzvot which, when we look at them today, are hard to see as the ultimate ideal that the Torah is pointing us towards.

The final question that Rambam’s position raises is what, then, is the ideal form of worship of God?  We would assume that the answer is prayer, but a close read of the text suggests (Guide III:31) that for Rambam the answer is intellectual apprehension of God.  That is, even prayer is a concession to the human condition, and ideal connection to an infinite God is not through petitionary prayer, but through intellectual apprehension.]

Ramban (Nahmanides), in his Commentary to the Torah (Vayikra 1:9) takes great issue with Rambam’s approach and – besides arguing on the specifics and brining prooftexts to contradict Rambam – argues in principle with the idea that sacrifices, which are so central to worship in the Torah, and which already existed with Adam and Noach, should not have intrinsic value.  He states that the significance of the sacrifices could be understood to be symbolic and psychological.  He sees the sin-offering as the primary sacrifice.  Given this, he states that when a person sees the animal being slaughtered, the blood being thrown on the altar, and the entrails burned up, he reflects and takes to heart the greatness of his sin, how he deserves to die, and how he has sinned both in thought and in deed.  He also gives a kabbalistic explanation, which seems to indicate that the sacrifices have a theurgic and metaphysical impact on God’s relationship to the world. 

It should be noted that Ramban's emphasis on the sin-offering seems misplaced, given that the olah, the burnt offering, seems to be the primary form of worship.  It was the sacrifice of Kayin and Hevel and of Noach, and in the Temple it is the olah that is the twice-daily communal sacrifice and that is the core of the musaf sacrifices brought on Shabbat and Yom Tov.  The Chinukh (Mitzvah 95) addresses this problem, and extends Ramban’s symbolic and psychological approach to non-sin-offering sacrifices and to the symbolism to other details and rituals of the sacrifices.

There seems to be one thing missing from all these explanations, a point implicit in Rambam and hinted to in the Chinukh.   The religious value of sacrifices would seem, at its core, to be what is indicated in the first sacrifice of the Torah, that of Kayin and Hevel.  The verse states: “… Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat of it…” (Breishit 4:3-4).  That is, the primary sacrifice is the olah, the burnt offering, the giving of something fully to God.  It is to take the fruit of one’s labor – be it agricultural or livestock – take what one values highly and feels deeply connected to, and to recognize that this comes from God, and to give it back to God to demonstrate and internalize this mindset.  This is why the idea of sacrificing one’s children – or the command of akeidat Yitzchak ­– fits into this model.  It is taking the “giving of what is most dear” to the ultimate extreme.  

Understood this way, the sin offering is using this principle as a form of achieving forgiveness and expiation.  We say in the u’Netaneh Tokef prayer that “u’teshuva u’tefillah u’tzedakah ma’avirin et ro’ah ha’gezeirah” that repentance, prayer and charity eliminate the stern decree.  In the same way, a korban – which is an intense and personal form of charity, of giving of oneself, of giving what is most dear -accompanied with the verbal confession done with the sin-offering, can achieve atonement.

It may be that one of the reasons that this is most hard for us to relate to is not the concept of giving things that we treasure to God, but because (1) we don’t relate that way to animals, and – even ethical issues aside – we are aesthetically repulsed by the idea of slaughtering animals, given how little most of us have to do today with livestock and slaughtering  and (2) we would like our donations to religious causes to be used in a more practically useful way, and not in a merely symbolic way.  While both of these are true, and reflect different sensibilities from those in the past, we can still understand the core human need that sacrifices did address at the time of the Temple.

A related point is the importance of using something physical in our worship.  As physical beings, it is often hard for us to connect to an infinite, non-physical God.  Just as Rambam explains that we need to use anthropomorphic and anthropopathic terms in describing God, to give us a means to relate to God, so most of us need a form of worship that has a physical component as well.  This was what sacrifices gave people.  The reason that this physical mode took the form of sacrifices, specifically, is because of people’s  personal connection to this things, as discussed above.  This framing helps us understand Rambam’s point of saying sacrifices is to prayer what prayer is to intellectually connecting to God.  The ultimate form of worship for Rambam is purely non-physical, pure intellectual connection.  People, however, can’t handle that,.  They need something more connected to human concerns and more involving human actions – petitionary prayer, fasting, and the very act of praying.  While necessary for most, says Rambam, this is not the ideal.

The question that persists, though, is that given that we are human, why describe what we need as not ideal?  We are not angels, or pure intellects, so for us – as physical beings – prayer might be the best way to connect to God.  And, how many of us have not felt when praying that we could connect more strongly if there was a more physical component?  Wearing a tallit or tefillin can help, as can shukeling – it feels like we are connecting more if we are doing more. 

So, in the end, I believe Rambam was right that korbanot were a concession to humans, but not because of our ancient pagan context, but because of our human nature, our physical nature.  The need to find meaningful ways to connect, and the importance of the physical, remain as true today as they did in the time of the Temple.  If for us, animal sacrifices is not the way, we should still be honest with the deep human need to find a way to connect to God, and work at developing those paths in the absence of sacrifices.

Shabbat Shalom!

Torah from Our Beit Midrash

The Mishna (Hullin 108) states that if a drop of milk falls on a piece of meat in a stew, and there is enough milk that it can be tasted in the meat, then the meat becomes basar bi'chalav (hereafter, bbh), milk and meat cooked together, and is forbidden.  The mishna then goes on to say, that if the milk is mixed into the rest of the pot, then we would have to determine if the milk could be tasted in the entire pot.  The question is, when was the milk, in this case, mixed into the whole pot, before or after it made the first piece forbidden? 

It is possible to read the mishna (and this is perhaps even the simpler read) to say that it was mixed after the first piece became bbh..  Read this way, the mishna would be teaching that although a piece of meat became bbh, if subsequently it was cooked with other food, to the point that the taste of milk distributed equally and could no longer be tasted in the original piece or the pot, then everything would be permitted.    This idea, that a piece of meat that was bbh could become permitted once it no longer had a milk taste to it, is what the Gemara refers to as efshar li'sochto mutar, "if the milk can be [and is] squeezed out [of the meat], then the meat become permitted.

Rashi, however, following the later Gemara, states that the mishna is referring to a case where the milk was immediately mixed into the entire pot.  In such a case, the pot takes the place of the single piece in the first case, and we determine if the milk could give taste to the entire pot.  There is no indication according to this what the halakha would be if a piece of meat which was bbh lost its milk taste.  Would it become permissible again or stay forbidden?

It is reading the mishna with this lacuna which gives the Gemara the opening to discuss what happens to the meat in such a situation.  Is efshar li'sochto permissible or forbidden?  The Gemara discusses this issue at length, in a complicated sugya, and concludes that according to Rebbe Yehuda, Rebbe, and - among the  Amoraim - Rav and Ravina, it is forbidden, and only according to the Sages who argue on Rebbe Yehuda is it permissible.  Given this, we rule (Shulkhan Arukh YD 92:2) with the majority and the later opinion that it the piece of meat remains forbidden, even when the milk goes out afterwards.  However, Rif does not rule in this case, and Ra'avad thinks that it might be because he rules that in such a case the meat becomes permissible again, and this actually is the Ra'avad's position -efshar li'sochto mutar.

What is the reason behind each side of this debate?  It seems that what is being debated here is the core question of how we understand the prohibition of bbh.  The Torah forbids us to cook them together, and to eat that which is cooked together.   How are these two prohibitions connected?  Is the cooking the focus, and the Torah then forbids us to benefit from that item - the bbh - that was the product of the forbidden act of cooking, or is the eating the focus, and the Torah forbids us to even create this thing which we cannot eat?  If one focuses on the cooking, then what defines the meat as bbh is the fact that it was - in the past - cooked with milk.  If this is the case, then even if the milk is later removed, it does not change the fact that this meat was cooked with milk, and thus it remains bbh - efshar li'sochto assur

On the other hand, if the eating is the focus, then cooking is just a means to creating a mixture.  Looked at this way, the definition of bbh is a mixture of meat and milk.  Now, it is true that not all mixtures are problematic.    If the two are mixed without heat, even if the meat absorbs the milk, they are not forbidden Biblically.  This, however, does not mean that the definition is not about them being a mixture.  It merely means that the definition of "mixture" is that they are chemically, not physically, mixed, and this will happen only with the use of heat.  If this is the case, then it is quite reasonable to say that if and when the milk separates from the meat, and a mixture no longer exists, then the meat would revert to being permitted once again - efshar li'sochto mutar.

[These two approaches would also lead to different definitions of cooking.  Do we mean cooking defined narrowly, or do we mean any form of heat-based transformation, including grilling, frying, and so on.  See the Achronim on Shulkhan Arukh YD 87:1].

Now, the answer to this question - whether bbh is about being cooked together or about being a mixture, seems to emerge from our very mishna.  Since the mishna states that the meat does not become bbh unless there is enough milk to be tasted, it would seem that something is only bbh if it is a mixture of meat and milk.  Thus, if the milk cannot be tasted, it is not considered present, and there is no mixture.  This is exactly the point that Abaye makes on this mishna in the immediately previous sugya.   From this Abaye also learns that ta'am ki'ikar d'oraitta, that the concept that something's taste is the same as the thing itself is a Biblical concept, because only with this principle can we consider the milk to still be present in the meat.  Rava argues with this proof (although not necessarily with the principle itself - see Tosafot, s.v. Amar).  Rava states that meat might be bbh not because it is a mixture but because it was cooked with milk.  Why, then, do we need the milk to impart its taste to the meat?  Because without this, it is not considered that they were cooked together.  The reason people cook things with each other is so that they impart their tastes to the dish.  If this is not the case, then it cannot be said that a real cooking of the two together took place.

Although we rule that efshar li'sochto assur, this does not definitely prove that bbh is defined by meat and milk having been cooked together, rather than as a mixture of meat and milk.   First, Rambam seems to emphasize that eating is the focus, not cooking, and he still rules that efshar li'sochto assur.  More to the point, Taz rules (Shulkhan Arukh YD 105, no. 13), in contradistinction to Shakh (ad. loc., no. 17) that if the meat and milk were fully separated, then the meat would revert to being permissible.  This is termed by the Achronim as efshar li'hafrido - it is possible to [and one did, in fact] fully separate them, in contrast to li'sochto, which means that one just "squeezed" the milk out, but a tiny bit still remained.  Why, according to Taz, does fully separating the two (if and when possible) make it permissible again?  Apparently, Taz understands that bbh is defined, even according to this, as a problem of a mixture.  However, once something has a forbidden status, it does not lose it easily.  As long as some milk - even a miniscule - remains, the status of a mixture continues to adhere to the object.  However, when this reality is fully negated, when not even an infinitesimal amount of milk remains, then it is impossible for the status of a "mixture" to continue.  In such a case, the meat reverts to being just meat and becomes permissible.  Shakh disagrees, and states explicitly that efshar li'sochto assur is based on the idea that the prohibition of bbh is not that of a mixture, but that of meat and milk having been cooked together.

[In closing, it is worth exploring the contrary position of Ra'avad.  Ra'avad (on Rambam, Forbidden Foods 9:9) states that the reason to reject the majority opinion and to state - as he does - that efshar li'sochto mutar -  is because the position that it was forbidden was only stated in the Gemara according to R. Yehuda (and those who follow him), who is also of the opinion that min bi'mino lo batel, that when one thing is mixed in another, like thing - such as non-kosher meat cooked with meat (they are both meat) - then no nullification occurs.  It is hard to understand what this principle has to do with efshar li'sochto, and the Rishonim (see Ramban Hullin 108b) struggle to understand the logic. 

It is perhaps possible to make sense of this given what we have said above.  R. Yehuda's position that min bi'mino lo batel is usually understood to mean that since everything is the same - it's all meat! - then no nullification is possible.  Nullification occurs when there is a difference, and the difference is eradicated.  Here, where physically they are the same, there is no way that the majority meat can nullify the minority meat - at the end of the day, it's all still meat.  There is, however, another way to understand R. Yehuda (this is somewhat similar to Ramban, but with a different emphasis).  It could be that R. Yehuda is stating that the bitul does not work not because it can't, but because the non-kosher meat is actually more powerful in the presence of other meat (a type of matzah min et mino vi'neior - one type found its mate and they "woke up," they reinforced one another).  Because everything is meat, then the "conductivity" is better - it is easier for the non-kosher meat to transfer its status to the kosher meat, even if there was only a tiny bit of it.  The kosher meat then becomes forbidden because of a status change (this is essentially chatikha na'asit neveilah bi'sha'ar issurim, "the piece becomes forbidden meat - even in non-bbh cases," a topic we will explore in a later post).   When, however, it is non-kosher meat mixed with vegetables then the status can only transfer if the forbidden food makes a real-world impact - if its taste is felt in the mixture.

Now, all of this is helpful in explaining why R. Yehuda would say chatikha na'asit neveilah bi'sha'ar issurim, as mentioned above, but it does not seem relevant to the case of bbh.  In that case we have two different types of food - meat and milk - so how is his position relevant?  Ramban asks this question and does not give a very satisfying answer.  Perhaps, though, R. Yehuda's position on mixtures does not let him define the problem of bbh to be that of a forbidden mixture.  Since R. Yehuda's approach to mixtures and bitul is based on the transfer of status, and not on the fact that the smaller item does or does not cease to exist, this then determines how he will look at bbhBasar biHalav for him cannot be a problem of the two mixed together, since neither the meat nor the milk has any "status".  Both the meat and the milk are heter, permissible, which means that they are status-less.  Thus, if the milk falls on a piece of meat, one cannot say that since it can be tasted it is like it is still there.  That is a meaningless idea for R. Yehuda.  All R. Yehuda would say is, if it can be tasted, it transfers its status - but it has no status to transfer!  Thus, for him, the definition of bbh is that the two were cooked together.  In other words, efshar li'sochto assur.   However, for the Sages, since min bi'mino is nullified, this shows that nullification operates on the principle of losing or retaining identity, and that when something gives its taste, the principle is that it is still there.  Thus, bbh can be based on the mixture of tastes, since when the milk can be tasted, one can say that one has a mixture of meat and milk.]

Happenings at the Yeshiva

Monday started out with the staff all breathing a deep sigh of relief, having put their enormous efforts into the dinner, and now being able to kvell in the amazingly successful evening that it was.  So many people remarked that this was the best dinner of a Jewish institution that they had ever been at and that being there made them feel inspired, and that they needed to be a part of YCT.  It was so wonderful, and we were all on a high.

To top it off, our Chairman of the Board, Steven Lieberman, who had come in for the dinner, spoke to the yeshiva on Monday morning.  Mr. Lieberman explained to the students his role and the role of the board and the direction and activities of the board, and they stayed to answer any questions that they had.  It was a great moment of information sharing and transparency, and students left feeling not only more greatly informed, but also as partners and collaborators in the yeshiva and its direction.

In the learning, students continued to shteig away, continuing to learn laws of bishul for Shabbat, and a range of technical details regarding sticking a milkhig spoon into a fleishig pot.  We also started reviewing the review questions that students had done when they completed each section, and this is turning into a wonderful opportunity to review and reinforce the earlier learning.

Also, as it now is the month of Adar haSheni, we followed our minhag of picking a student's name out of hat after mincha each day to appoint him to be the student to give a 5 minute shpeil / Purim Torah the following day after Mincha.  We began this this Tuesday, with a hilarious shpeil that Aaron Finkelstein (YCT 2011) and Gabe Greenberg (YCT 2012) created, of the Shpeiling Hat - a take on the Harry Potter Sorting Hat.  With a tremendous rhyme and English accent, courtesy of the talents of Dan Milner (YCT 2014).  The following day Aaron Potek (YCT 2014) did a "Top Ten Slogans rejected for the YCT water bottle" and on Thursday Mikey Stein (YCT 2013) did a series of faux-announcements.  We look forward to next week's shpeils!

In the area of semachot and, li'havdil, tzarrot and nichumim, our hearts go out to the hundreds who have been killed and the thousands upon thousands who are suffering from the most powerful recorded quake and tsunami in Japan which happened just today.  May those who died find everlasting peace, and may those who survived and are suffering have the strength to recover from their injuries and to rebuild their lives. 

In particular we pray for the family of Abbie Yamamoto, wife of Aaron Shub (YCT 2013), who lives  in that region.  Abbie has not yet been able to reach them and find out about their welfare.    We pray that her family is well, and that as many people as possible have escaped the devastation of this quake.

This week was, in fact, one of great simcha for Aaron Shub and Abbie Yamamoto, as Abbie gave birth to a beautiful baby girl last Sunday night.  There was great dancing and singing on Tuesday when Aaron came to the yeshiva.  We look forward to a baby naming in the new future.  She'tizku li'gadlah li'Torah li'chuppah u'li'ma'asim tovim!

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Aaron Levy (YCT 2004) and Ms. Miriam Kraemer on the birth of a baby boy last Shabbat.  Bris will be this Shabbat at the historic Kiever Synagogue in Toronto.  She'tizku li'gadlo li'Torah li'chuppah u'li'ma'asim tovim!

Mazal Tov to Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz (Class of 2010) on his engagement to Shoshana Stein.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Thought on the Parsha

In the final verses of the book of Shemot we are told that "the Tabernacle (the Mishkan) was erected," and that "Moshe erected the Mishkan."  The Midrash contrasts these two verses and describes what happened behind the scenes and who was really behind the construction of the Mishkan:

Because when they had finished the Mishkan, none knew how to set it up. So what did they do? Each one took his finished piece of work and ... as soon as Moses beheld them, the Divine spirit settled upon him and he set the Tabernacle up.

You must not say that it was Moses who set it up, for miracles were performed with it and it rose of its own accord, for it says,  "The Mishkan was erected" (Ex. 40:17). [Just like when Solomon built the Temple,] everyone was helping him, including both man and spirits, because it says: "For the house, in its being built..."  (I Kings VI, 7) - [that is,] it was built of its own accord.  Therefore it must have been built miraculously. Similarly, when the Mishkan was erected, it also rose up miraculously.
(Shemot Rabbah 52:4).

While this midrash seemingly answers the question "Who built the Mishkan?,"  it actually gives many different - perhaps even contradictory - answers to this question.   Moshe, with his talents, erected the Mishkan.  Moshe erected it because the Divine spirit was working through him.  Everyone, even spirits, built the Mishkan.  The Mishkan arose by itself, miraculously.  Well, which is it?  How exactly did the Mishkan get built? Was it Moshe? Was it God working through Moshe?  Was it the people?  Was it a miracle? 

The answer, of course, is that all of these are true.   The midrash is capturing the multi-faceted, seemingly contradictory nature of what happens in a successful collaborative effort.  When people are working together in an organized, integrated fashion, when the effort is coordinated by a leader who does not overly insert him or herself,  by a person who brings out the best in others and makes each person feel valued, when everyone participates and everyone contributes his or her distinctive talents, when all forces are working together, and everyone is driven by a shared vision, then, indeed, what is created is created as if by itself, as if by a miracle.   It is created through everyone's effort, and through the hand of God.

Such has been our experience with the building of our house of God, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.  It has been a labor of love, inspired by a dream, driven by a vision.  It has succeeded because of the collaboration of so many uniquely talented individuals, each person giving fully of his or herself.  From teachers of Torah and halakha, to experts in pastoral counseling, pedagogy, and leadership.  From our students who contribute their passion and their personal visions to those who run the business and support end of the yeshiva so expertly that it seems to run without effort, as if by itself.  From those in the larger community who have contributed through their financial support to those who contribute through their expertise, their advice and their advocacy . From all of these amazing individuals, from all of us working together, we have created a true house of God. 

It is a house of God that, with God's help, brings God's presence a little more into this world, a house that provides such needed religious leadership, and from which, with God's help, emanates Torah and inspiration to the Jewish community and to the world.

With the yeshiva's upcoming dinner this Sunday, I would like to use this opportunity to express how grateful I am - every day - for the hard work, dedication, and contribution that each individual has made and continues to make in the building and growing of this house of God, of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.  I also want to recognize the students of the yeshiva, my talmidim, who have given and continue to give the yeshiva their all, so that the yeshiva can be the best possible rabbinical school, and so that they can be the best possible rabbis for their future communities. 

On a personal note, I am humbled to be receiving this Sunday the Rabbinic Leadership Award.  I strive to follow the model of Moshe in the building of the Mishkan, and to follow the example of our founder, my mentor, Rabbi Avi Weiss - to work to integrate everyone's talents, but to make myself as invisible as possible, to empower the talented individuals that I am blessed to work with, and to step out of the way and to let them do their magic.  Truly, together, with God's help, we have built this amazing yeshiva, and we will continue to be blessed by dedicating ourselves to it, and by the light that emerges from it and its rabbis, for many, many years to come.

Shabbat Shalom!

Torah from Our Beit Midrash

As mentioned, we are nearing the end of Zevachim in the daf yomi.  The last two chapters, 13 and 14, deal with the prohibition of bringing sacrifices outside of the Temple, even if they are brought to God.  The first mishna in the beginning of the 14th perek (112a), opens with two exceptions: the seir ha' mishtalayach, the goat sent over the cliff on Yom Kippur, and the parah Adumah, the red heifer which was slaughtered and burned outside the Temple, and whose ashes were used to make the mei chatat, the ritual water that would purify those who had become tamei due to contact with a corpse.  The reason that one is exempt for sacrificing these outside of the Temple is because the were never intended to be brought in the Temple regardless, they are not "ra'oy li'petach ohel moed," fit, or intended, for sacrifice in the Temple.  Thus, the subversion of their purpose or of their kedusha is less severe than it is in the case of classic sacrifices offered on private altars.

These two (pseudo-)sacrifices which are intended to be brought outside the Temple, can serve as helpful models in understanding another phenomenon - the parim v'seirim ha'nisrafim - the cows and goats which are burnt outside the Tempe and outside of Jerusalem.  These are all chataot, sin offerings, and consist of the (1) the two cow chataot in Vayikra 4:1-21, the chatat brought when the Kohen Gadol rules incorrectly and follows his ruling, and the chatat brought when the High Court rules incorrectly and the people follow their ruling; (2) The Kohen Gadol's cow brought on Yom Kippur for his sins and the goat brought on Yom Kippur for the sins of the people (besides the goat that is sent over the cliff) [Vayikra 16:1-34]; and (3) The goats brought when the people have all committed the sin of idolatry [Bamidbar 15:22-26]. 

As can be seen by this list, they are all sins of large proportions - either of leaders, of the community as a whole, or of idolatry.  The Torah commands that the blood of these sacrifices be brought into the heichal, the inner sanctum, and sprinkled on the curtain that divides it from the kodesh kodashim, the holy of holies, and on the gold altar of incense.  Clearly, the sin requires special atonement, and one must get even closer to God's presence to effect the atonement.  Alternatively, the Torah describes, particularly in the section dealing with the Yom Kippur sacrifices, that the effect of sin is that it impurifies the Sanctuary, the Temple.  The greater the sin, the more it contaminates, and enters into an even holier space - the inner sanctum.  Thus, this needs to be cleansed and purified, and that is the function of these parim v'sei'irim ha'nisrafim.

While this is what is done with the blood, the meat is treated in quite the opposite manner.  It is taken out of the Mikdash, out of the camps that surround it - in Israel, this would mean out of Jerusalem, the city that surrounds it, and burnt into ashes.   Presumably, this is reflecting the dual nature of this chatat.  It needs to go into the innermost sanctum to do its work, but this closeness is coming, in necessary, at a time of greater distance, great sin and tumah.  Thus, while the blood can, and needs to, go into the heichal, the meat cannot be treated as a normal sacrifice.  It is inappropriate for it to be "consumed" either by the Kohanim or by the altar.  Perhaps it would even be proper to say that the severe tumah, impurity, that needed to be cleansed, left the Sanctuary and adhered, to some degree, to the meat of the sacrifice.   Unlike normal sins which disappear upon the act of sacrificial atonement, these sins do not go away so easily.  Even when the cleansing is done, like tough stains, they do not come out so quickly.  They attach to the meat, and thus the meat must be taken out of the Sanctuary, out of all the camps, and burnt and destroyed.

The meat, then, according to this explanation, serves somewhat of a "scapegoat" function, like the Seir laAzazel, the goat on Yom Kippur that is pushed off the cliff.  That goat, too, is sent out of all three camps, so that it can "carry the sins of the Children of Israel into the wasteland."  The sin, in its metaphysical expression of tumah, is, in both cases, carried out of the camp, and destroyed.  This also explains another parallel between the two categories - to wit: that both those who take out the Seir La'azazel and those who burn these cows and goats, become tamei in the process. In fact, our Mishna teaches that according to the majority opinion not only does the one who burns these cows and goats become tamei but even those who are involved in taking them out of the Mikdash and bringing them outside the camp, just like with the Seir La'azazel.  While one could perhaps conceptualize this as part of being involved in the act of burning (as this is a necessary prerequisite), the Gemara see to say otherwise.  The Gemara (105b) makes clear that it is learned from the separate verse and separate verb that says, "And it shall be taken outside the camp," (Vayikra 16:27), and the braitta (105a) lists the act of taking them out separately from the act of burning them.  In short, the tumah adheres to those who are mitaskim bo, "involved with it, (105a).   Because the tumah has attached itself to the meat, it will attach itself to anyone who is involved with it.

R. Shimon in the mishna disagrees with all of this, and states that only those who burn these cows become impure.   He, apparently, does associate it with the Seir Lazazel, and sees this perhaps as more of a ritual and less of a destroying of the carrier of tumah.  There are two other positions of his which correspond to this understanding.  The Gemara (105b) states that he would agree with the position of R. Eliezer that these cows and goats are burnt in the same place that the parah adumah, the red heifer, is burnt, to the east of Jerusalem.  This seems to identify the burning as a ritual, like it is with the parah adumah, the other sacrifice brought outside the Temple, and as a ritual it is not intended as a destructive act. 

In the case of the parah adumah, the slaughtering and sprinkling of the blood is not done in the Mikdash, but in a place to the east of Jerusalem, facing the Sanctuary.  The blood is sprinkled towards the opening of the sanctuary, thus making this a sacrificial act that takes place outside the Sanctuary but in connection to it.    It would seem, According to R. Shimon, that the same is true for the burning of the parim vi'seirim ha'nisrafim.  They are burnt just like the olah is burnt on the mizbayach, the altar, as part of the sacrificial act.  Here, the sacrificial burning is not on the altar, but on this extension of the Mikdash, this site that is to the east of Jerusalem and facing the Mikdash.  It is, nevertheless, a ritual sacrificial act.

In a similar vein, we find a debate at the very end of the chapter regarding how much the meat has to be burnt.  According to R. Shimon, the position quoted in the Mishna, the meat only has to be burnt until it becomes charcoal, i.e., is no longer meat.  According to the Rabbis, however, it must be burnt until it becomes completely ashes.  If the goal is a ritual act of burning, then making it charcoal is enough, it is na'asit mitzvato, its mitzvah was performed.  However, if the goal is to destroy it, then it must be completely destroyed. [In the case of the parah adumah, however, it must be ashes to be mixed with the water afterwards, and thus for a different reason it is not complete until it becomes ashes.]

The one seeming anomaly this understanding is the Gemara's statement (106a) that according to the Rabbis the cows and goats would be burnt in the north.  This, presumably, is because in the Sanctuary a chatat is brought in the north (so Rashi, ad. loc.)  This would seem to see the burning as a ritual, sacrificial act.  However, we may note that the act of burning - as opposed to slaughtering - is never associated in the Sanctuary itself with the north.  More significantly, Rambam seems to understand that this is not the halakha, as he does not bring down any requirements for the location of the place of burning other than it being outside of Jerusalem (Acts of Sacrifices, 7:3).   It seems according to him that this is an act of destruction, not some sacrificial ritual, and can be done anywhere outside of Jerusalem, the extended Temple precincts.

It thus seems that we have two models to which to compare these parim ha'nisrafim - the Seir La'azazel and the parah adumah.  The first is a scapegoat, which we are casting out and destroying.  The second is a sacrifice, whose ritual is done out of the Temple.  The Rabbis understand these cows and goats to be a form of the first, whereas R. Shimon understands them to be a form of the second.  We ultimately side with the Rabbis, a position which is consistent with the description of the cleansing of the Mikdash from tumah on Yom Kippur, and makes the cow and goat of Yom Kippur of a piece with the Seir Lazazel of that day.

[This was adapted from my blog post on the Daily Daf]

Happenings at the Yeshiva

In the Yeshiva this week, the Yoreh Deah students wrapped up siman 92, which lays out the fundamental principles of chatikha na'aseit neveila, of when permissible food which absorbed forbidden food is considered to have transformed into forbidden food itself.  Years 1 and 2, who are learning Shabbat, are moving from the d'orraitas of cooking to the rabbinic prohibitions, including the major issue of leaving food on the fire before Shabbat and returning for to the fire on Shabbat.

This last Monday night we had a special night seder at the Yeshiva.   Rabbi Dr. Maoz Kahana, a Tikvah Scholar with expertise in the Achronim and the Noda BiYehudah, joined us for our night seder, and gave a chaburah on the topic of Purim in the world of psak.   It was a wonderful shiur, intertwining both classic halakhic sources and an aggadic/chasidic approach.  We hope to see more of Rabbi Dr. Kahana in our beit midrash on an ongoing basis!

Night seder ended with a very moving chevre event arranged by Avram Mlotek.  Avram, who has a very strong background in Yiddish and Yiddish culture, taught the students some Yiddish niggunim, and we spent some precious minutes together eating herring and singing Yiddish folk songs.  It was a true high and a beautiful way to end the evening.

We were fortunate to have a number of additional guest speakers this week.  Rabbi Chanokh Waxman, from Yeshivat HaMivtar visited us on Wednesday, and gave a shiur over lunch on the topic of "Make Your Ears Like a Funnel: Conflict, Truth and the Forty Nine Faces of the Torah."  And then, on Thursday, Rabbi Yitzi Blau, the Rosh Kollel of Yeshivat Shvilei HaTorah in Israel, gave a chaburah on the Aggadatas regarding Wicked People in Tanakh.    We were thrilled to have these visiting rabbis from Israel, to hear their Torah, and to strengthen our connection with them and with their respective yeshivot.

On Thursday, our Visiting Scholars program continued, and Dr. Effie Shoham, Tikvah Fellow and Professor of Jewish History at Ben Gurion University, spoke on the topic of his first book - Physical Disability and Acute Illness: A View from Medieval Sources.  Dr. Shoham gave a fascinating lecture on how the Rishonim made a point of protecting disable people, and in particular lepers, from legal and societal marginalization.   He also showed the hidden Christian polemics in some of the sources, contrasting how the Jewish society deal with such people to how they were dealt with by their neighbors.   Dr. Shoham mentioned how meaningful it was for him to be giving this lecture to the yeshiva, as this was the first time in his career that he had been invited inside the beit midrash of a yeshiva to give a lecture on his work.  We were truly the beneficiaries, and we look forward to welcoming Dr. Shoham again next week when he will continue to explore with us this important topic.

We were thrilled this week to welcome back to our regular staff Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Milgram.  Rabbi Milgram will be function as a shoel u'maishiv in the Beit Midrash on Thursdays, for general questions and in particular to answer questions related to academic Talmud or academic Judaic studies.  He will also be giving a chaburah to students on the topic of his upcoming book - Laws of Inheritance in Halakha, with a particular focus on the tannaitic material and comparison to other contemporary legal systems.  It is so wonderful to have Rabbi Milgram back on our staff, connecting with the guys, and sharing his wisdom and expertise with all of us.

In the world of the daf yomi we are  nearing the end of Zevachim.  We will be finishing on March  10th, and starting Menachot a week from today, on Friday March 11.  For those of you who have considered doing the daf yomi, why not start now with Menachot?  You can participate live or listen to the recorded shiur, on video or audio.  Visit the Daily Daf or the Daf page on the Yeshiva's website for information on how to participate in the daf!
Finally, I would like to express hakarot hatov to the YCT students for buying the faculty and staff lunch yesterday. We were touched by this thoughtful gesture!